Why Chris Bangle is a Superstar

Chris Bangle is, quite simply, a superstar designer. Should you mention his name at a dinner party you’re likely to find quite a few people familiar with his many accomplishments – not least of which his tenure as Head of Design for the BMW Group. His name has been featured in headlines across every media, on par with – and perhaps even exceeding – those of such automotive design greats as Pininfarina, Giugiaro and Bertone.

Amongst the automotive cognoscenti, his creations are considered controversial at best. Though there have been many derogatory comments made about ‘Flame Surfacing’ (a term coined by BMW marketing that Bangle despises) and the ‘Bangle butt’ that adorned the fourth generation 7 Series (designed by current BMW Group Head of Design Adrian van Hooydonk) there have also been many great successes.

Under his direction, BMW Design flourished: The company created the controversial E65 7 Series as well as the wonderfully modern E60 5 Series; the Z3, Z4 and Z8 sports cars; the X3, X5 and X6 SUVs the new 6 Series and 1 Series model ranges and the amazing GINA Light Visionary Concept. He tore down the once conservative German company’s design boundaries while breaking nearly every rule in the car designer’s handbook and significantly helped BMW achieve stellar financial results.

About the Man

Bangle’s path to automotive stardom was not an easy nor a direct one. The son of a minister, Christopher Edward Bangle was born in Ohio and spent his formative years in Wisconsin, where it was thought he would follow his father’s footsteps. But he had different ideas.

Impassioned by art and sculpture, Bangle instead enrolled in the Art Center College of Design. In 1981, after a brief stint as an assistant designer at Hartkopf Associates, he moved to Germany and began his automotive design career an interior designer at Opel. Four years later he relocated to Italy and became head of the exterior studio at Fiat Centro Stile, where he designed the seminal 1993 Fiat Coupe. He rose through the ranks to become Director of Design before leaving the Italian company in 1992 to join BMW.

In Good Form

The polarizing form language Bangle instigated first began appearing after board member Wolfgang Reitzle stepped down, opening the floodgates to his non-conformist creations, and he was later responsible for overseeing the development of the new Mini range, Rolls-Royce models and a number of innovative motorcycle concepts. During his tenure, Bangle was also instrumental in building DesignworksUSA, the company’s consultancy subsidiary, into a global design agency for international brands operating within a wide variety of industries.

But all of that came to an end in 2009 when Bangle abruptly announced his resignation from BMW and the automotive design industry. He subsequently founded his own design consultancy where he works on various industrial design projects with a small team based in the outskirts or Turin, Italy, and he continues to foster innovation on a smaller scale.

One thing remains, love him or loathe him, there’s no question that Chris Bangle is the most influential car designer of our generation.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.

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